Unless Dr Faroogh Nasim pulls, to use Denny Crane’s words, ‘a rabbit out of the hat’, there is very little he can do to avoid the fairly obvious legal outcome of the ongoing trial of former President and Chief of Army Staff General (r) Pervez Musharraf. The charge of High Treason on account of, among others, imposing a decidedly unconstitutional national emergency on 3rd November 2007 and sacking several judges of the superior judiciary, including 13 of the 18 judges of the Supreme Court along with the Chief Justice of Pakistan, would be hard to survive in a court of law. This being a special court holding frequent hearings, the Federation having already let aiders and abettors off the hook, and Musharraf having been formally indicted three and a half months ago – the hammer can fall very soon. However, given Pakistan’s political history, the question remains, would the hammer be allowed to fall at all?
Since Musharraf’s trial for treason was arguably one of Nawaz Sharif’s campaign promises, the latter cannot be denied the legitimate and sufficient electoral mandate to go ahead and do so. As for the political and military elite, Nawaz Sharif has come this far with the trial (which he had first announced on the floor of the National Assembly on 24 July last year soon after being elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan) with the general support of the judiciary, media and the Pakistan People’s Party. The only national players left to consider are General Raheel Sharif, as the current Chief of Army Staff, and Imran Khan, as chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf with the electoral mandate to govern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa only.
Despite causing occasional scares, the post-Musharraf Pakistan Army has neither publicly opposed nor supported Musharraf’s trial, nor has it physically removed him from Pakistan so far. This illustrates that the army has shown no intention of directly intervening in this matter, unless of course such intervention comes after Nawaz Sharif and his political party have been removed from power.
This is where Imran Khan comes in. He seems to be of the view that Musharraf’s trial is unfair – not because Musharraf does not deserve it, but because Nawaz Sharif rose to power in the 1980s under the patronage of military dictatorship (as officially confirmed by the court in the Asghar Khan case) and therefore he does not have the moral high ground to prosecute a former army chief for treason in 2013-14. This view can be contested on two grounds. Firstly, as noted above, Nawaz Sharif is not the only person behind Musharraf’s trial – the electoral mandate, the judiciary, PPP and the media have played allies to Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N in this venture. Secondly, when it comes to the army’s patronage, hardly any major politician can claim to have always been completely free of it, not even Imran Khan himself. In other words, Nawaz Sharif’s prosecution of Musharraf is consistent with the evident desire of the new civilian setup established in February 2008 to sustain itself indefinitely into the future, and is therefore permissible. Moreover, Nawaz Sharif has been trying to compensate for his low moral standing on this issue by crediting the judiciary for Musharraf’s trial and by generally maintaining an aura of ‘good governance’ about his administration.
[quote]Since it is impossible to tell if the army is bluffing, Nawaz Sharif has no choice but to assume the worst[/quote]
However, with Chief Justice Chaudhry (who himself took oath under Musharraf in 1999) gone, leaving behind his judgment in the Asghar Khan case, Nawaz Sharif cannot completely ignore Imran Khan’s objection and become the Prime Minister who hangs a former military dictator. For the same reason, Nawaz Sharif also cannot afford to see Musharraf imprisoned for life, the only other sentence possible for treason, as that would make the imprisoned Musharraf a ready-made hero for any pro-army or army-led bid to topple his government during the remaining four years of his tenure (although if Pakistan were to be considered a jail, this situation has already existed since Musharraf’s name was first put on the Exit Control List in March last year during the PPP government). Both Imran Khan and the army are aware of this situation. Hence, the bizarre and untimely demands and rallies by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri.
Their speeches and protests, regardless of their actual motivations, can arguably serve Musharraf in two ways. Firstly, they can lead to mid-term elections presumptively returning Imran Khan or Tahirul Qadri as the new prime minister who would then let Musharraf go. However, apart from the question of having the requisite electoral support, Qadri is hardly the prime-ministerial type and Imran Khan, a veteran of the lawyers’ movement, would have no justification for letting Musharraf go when he is the prime minister himself. Secondly, the army can use the political unrest created by Qadri and Khan as an excuse to take over the country for a decade or so for the fourth time in Pakistan’s history and obviously, exonerating Musharraf would be the first act of the new military dictator. This brings us finally to General Raheel Sharif.
The General was appointed by Nawaz Sharif himself in November last year after he had constituted the Special Court to try Musharraf. Further, there is no indication as yet that he is particularly unhappy with Nawaz Sharif on account of Musharraf or otherwise. It is tempting to believe that Nawaz Sharif must have reached an understanding with Raheel Sharif on this issue, that is, Musharraf be convicted and sentenced but subsequently pardoned by the President in ‘public interest’. However, the General has recently made a couple of strong statements to protect the ‘institution’ he heads, and his intelligence agency, the ISI, got into a nasty clash with the Independent Media Corporation, Pakistan’s biggest media house, on account of attempted assassination of its most popular anchorperson, Hamid Mir. Further, the Pakistani Taliban, who have been the biggest nuisance and embarrassment for the army for the past decade, have apparently disappeared into thin air during the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, while the incoherent rants and rallying of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri continue.
This means the second option – a military coup – is in play, or at least is palpably there to scare Nawaz Sharif into letting Musharraf go. Since it is impossible under the circumstances to tell if the army is bluffing or not, Nawaz Sharif has no choice but to assume the worst and try to prevent Qadri or Khan from creating a situation that may reasonably be considered an invitation to the army to takeover. And that’s exactly what he is doing, though with a little too much zeal that some may call self-defeating.
Once more, the fate of this country hangs in the balance. One can only hope that the civilian setup stays strong, united and pragmatic as it has so far and the army comes around to the only just outcome of Musharraf’s trial under the circumstances: his conviction and sentencing by the judiciary followed by a Presidential pardon advised by the Prime Minister as sufficient discharge of his electoral mandate.